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Saturday, July 9, 2011

"This is Blues Power!"

Does anyone know where I can find a lonely dirt cross roads? You know, the kind that the Devil hangs around looking for folks who want to sell their souls? They say that if you stand at the crossroads at midnight and have your guitar with you, the devil will come along and will trade instant guitar wizardry for your my book, that's a steal of a deal. Perhaps I can bring my harmonicas and make it a daily double although I seriously doubt my soul is worth that much. Still, in all, I'd like to give it a shot, you never know...never say never...if nothing else Id have another story to spin. Probably the best known crossroads is the one that Robert Johnson hung around at, where he made his deal...I mean the guy only cut a handful of tunes and he is revered more than ever nowadays, he's been dead now at least what, 70 years? THE crossroads is at the junction of highways 49 and 61 in Mississippi, they have a big sign there with lights and everything shining on it, I imagine I would have to que up and wait my turn, they probably sell t-shirts there and have a fucking 7-11 by now.
Like most white boys my age, the blues came to me in the form of the 60's "British Invasion", it was an honorable thing that many bands explained where their licks came from. The Stones pretty much led the way by having Howlin Wolf on the TV show Shindig! back in 1964. They also put notable blues luminaries on legs of their US tours, Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells to name one act. (*It must be noted here that one of the biggest blues influenced bands of the era, Led Zeppelin, did absolutely nothing in giving credit where credit was due, going so far as to steal song writing rights from Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon...Limey Bastards!*).

It was the summer after my senior year in high school, I was immersed in several styles of music. From the aforementioned British blues bands to "California" style country (Gram Parsons and the Grateful Dead's "Working Man's Dead" and their spin off "New Riders of the Purple Sage") to Hank Williams and beyond, my musical tastes were tinged with music rooted in the blues but I had'ent taken a drink from the well just yet. I started noticing credits on many cool songs I liked, names like McKinley Morganfield, Willie Dixon and Chester Burnett. The band "Hot Tuna" whom I loved, had further song writing credits with the likes of Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Blind Willie Johnson and others. This was the beginning of my schooling, a schooling that has lasted to this day.
Sometime earlier in that same summer I had been turned on to an album "Fathers and Sons". It was a Muddy Waters album with mostly white backup musicians so it still had that slick white boy sound but with a real blues master at the helm. Now I had been diddling around with a harmonica for a little while, so I was just floored when I heard Paul Butterfield on this album. Yea, he was a white boy, but I heard a soul in his music that only comes with experience living and playing the blues. I started to visualize what his mouth might be doing during any particular riff and I tried to emulate, I was just about hooked and I was really lovin this ride.

Now the learning escalated, I was in record stores all over, "The Book Nook" and "Inner Dimensions" a head shop in Montclair. "The Last Straw" another head shop in Bloomfield and the king of all places to buy vinyl: "Korvettes" in West Orange. I was starting to amass a bit of a collection, however, one foot was still firmly implanted in British Blues...stuck like quicksand.
The "Village Voice" of early August had a banner ad for an upcoming show at Carnegie Hall...headlining was a British blues band I really liked at the time, the "Climax Blues Band", they had just released an album recorded live at the Academy of Music in NY titled "FM Live"...I really loved it. Also on the bill were 3 other acts somewhat familiar in name only but really only a bi-line to me. "Also Appearing: T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton, & Albert King". Hey I really wanted to see Climax and Im sure I would somewhat enjoy these other acts, was'ent sure about Big Mama, though, probably no where near Janis Joplin...what a fucking knucklehead I was...Id eat those words soon enough.
A nice evening, the kind of evening one can only find in NY, the air was clear for a change and a nice breeze caught you and dried the sweat on you at every crosswalk. I went with a few friends, I cannot remember who, I was stoked on wine and numerous joints, was enjoying myself capitally. We entered the hallowed halls of Carnegie Hall and I kind of noticed that there were not quite as many people dressed like me, seems like the Hoi Polloi were not well represented and in their stead a steady flow of upper crust New Yorkers were coming to get a little culture, I guess. Why the hell would these distinguished looking bookworms and hot shots want to see Climax Blues Band? Fuck it, lets find our seats. We ascended to the balcony about half way up and settled in. The house lights dimmed, a lone stick figure of a man came out with his electric guitar and sunglasses...he tuned up a bit, mumbled his thanks to the audience for showing up, his band shuffled in and jumped into "Everyday I Have the Blues". I could see the heads nodding to the music, a few feet were tapping, a bubble that was wrapped around my awareness suddenly began to shimmy and shake...30 minutes later, after an amazing rendition of his famous "Stormy Monday Blues", a distinct tear in the bubble could be seen. Was I really this high, should I go to restrom and throw some water on my face, could I even walk? I sat during the brief intermission pondering my fate and looking at this luminous bubble quaking all around my head.

Big Mama Thornton hit the stage with a bang! "Hound Dog" is her main claim to fame, done much more soulfully than Elvis ever could. At this point I was almost comotose, I was aware of the music, really digging it but I could'ent really move, the damn bubble had me transfixed. With each beat of music is shook just a bit more violently and the tear in front began to look like a slow motion fire on it just melts away, but much slower. I could see her on stage, she was not quite as "big" as in her younger life but she was belting it out just the same. Her band chugged along in an orgiastic frenzy of blues induced raw sexual tension. My stomach was in knots and my bowels felt like they would explode, messing myself terribly, that dident happen thankfully, but the pressure was intense. Another intermission, I was able to get up and followed one of my friends into the mens room. For a bunch of high brows the aroma of pot was overwhelming, it really hit you as the seal of the door was broken and you stepped inside. I washed my face and smoked with at least 10 different people of all sorts. Some other freaks were by me but so were some bearded dudes from the beat generation as well as what appeared to be art and literary critics dressed in black tuxedos for Gods sake. I stumbled back upstairs and hit the bar they had at the landing. I blasted 2 shots of Wild Turkey, almost choked to death and mumbled incoherently back to my seat...folks seemed to part the way for me realizing that here was a thoroughly dangerous individual. In those days I dressed like an urban cowboy and the sight of me reeling with my wild shoulder length red hair looking like for all the world like a mentally deranged Wild Bill Hickock...well something had to give.

The houselights flickered, the backup band started playing the intro tune, "Watermelon Man"...the backup band appeared to be the Stax Records house band, that is, Booker T, Duck Dunn, Steve Cropper, the horns and I believe Son Seals on drums (he later switched to guitar and became big in his own right in Chicago and beyond). They were so damn tight and the tune was amazingly lively and soulful at the same time. I was awakening now, the bubble had long since "popped" and disapated...they introduced Albert and on strolled a man in one piece olive drab coveralls with his signiture "Flying V" guitar wheich he plays left handed ala Hendrix (a right hand guitar played upside down). He jumped in to "Don't Lie to Me"...I lept to my feet and let out a yowl that had to have shaken the rafters, everyone turned to look, I think I even saw Albert give a smile. The great awakening had happened. The rest of Albert's set had me and others I coaxed on their feet wildly thrashing like a drunken stork run amok. It was beautiful. Two encores, I screamed so loud I was hoarse, I felt like I could lick the entire starting lineup of the NY Giants!

Intermission, the crowd started to file out as if the show was over, I followed suit. My friend said, "Hey, man, don't you wanna see Climax?" "Nah"

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